Every season seems a little crazy when we get to this point, yet I have never seen such inconsistency not only from players but with coaching decisions. Each week we try to read between the lines and figure out what players are going to be on the field and in what roles. Each week we have coaching staffs throwing us curve balls. Injuries are contributing to the issue, however it seems that defenses are using a growing number of situational packages each week. Other teams seem to be following the trend of changing schemes and personnel on a near weekly basis. Many of you use our projections and rankings to help with lineup and roster decisions each week. I can assure everyone that I am still doing due diligence when putting together projections. Trust me when I say that no one is more frustrated than I as we head to week nine.
After playing only half of the snaps in week seven, Tyrann Mathieu was back as the starting free safety against Atlanta. His production returned as well. Bruce Arians is not helping us any by refusing to commit to Mathieu as the starter going forward despite the quality of his play and excellent production. This one is a real head scratcher. Like many of you, I have been burned in recent weeks but have decided that Mathieu is going to be in my lineup every week going forward.
Jonathan Babineaux has been rather quiet for most of the season before going 7-0-1 with a forced fumble in week eight. With production from the tackle position being so hard to come by, there are going to be a lot of owners looking to pick him up this week. I will stop short of advising against it only because many of us are grasping at straws right now. I will however, caution against grand expectations and/or over spending to get him. Babineaux saw more action (52 snaps) than any other Falcons lineman in week eight, but this is not a change from previous weeks. His snap count has consistently been good all season. He continues to see action at both end on base downs and tackle in passing situations, which again is nothing new. The Falcons have Carolina and Seattle in the next two weeks. Both teams are middle of the pack in sacks allowed. After that five of their last seven games are against teams that are currently among the top twelve in fewest sacks allowed. The moral of this story is grab Babineaux if you are in dire straits but keep in mind that nothing has really changed from the first six games in which he totaled 5-5-0, and the schedule is not favorable for him down the stretch.
The Bills secondary is finally at full strength. Jairus Byrd survived the trade deadline as a member of the team, Stephon Gilmore is back in a full time role at corner opposite Leodis McKelvin and as we expected early in the season, Aaron Williams has settled in at strong safety. Da'Norris Searcy is still seeing action in the nickel packages but was limited to 45 snaps out of a possible 73 against New Orleans, with Jim Leonard relegated to spot duty (13 snaps). Only Williams and Kiko Alonso were on the field for every defensive snap in week eight. All the player movement in the Bills secondary can be directly related to injuries, so unless someone goes down again it is a fairly safe bet that this will be the plan going forward. Williams should have been credited with a couple more solo stops in week eight, which would have made him the team's second leading tackler in the game. The big numbers we expected from the position going into the season may never happen but Williams should be a steady contributor for us the rest of the way.
Both Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy put up 2 sacks and big numbers for us in week eight. Beware starting them in week nine though. Johnson left Sunday's game with a groin injury and is questionable as of Wednesday. He expects to play against Atlanta but history tells us that defensive ends and sore groins are a bad combination for fantasy owners. Even if he does go the injury is likely to slow him. The bigger issue here is that despite their struggles, the Falcons have allowed the fifth fewest sacks (13) on the season. I would avoid Johnson all together this week and start Hardy only if you have no other quality options.
The Carolina secondary was a situation under the microscope heading into last week. Michael Mitchell seems to have settled in at free safety for the long haul. He continues to play well even though his box score production was rather pedestrian against Tampa Bay. With a string of quality matchups that includes the Saints in week sixteen, Mitchell should produce well for us down the stretch.
At the strong safety position it was Quintin Mikell getting the start and playing through most of the first quarter before giving way to Robert Lester. The two alternated for a while with Mikell being phased out completely in the second half. I saw nothing during the game and there have been no reports suggesting that Mikell was bothered by any injury, so we have to assume this was a coaching decision. Lester finished the game with 3 tackles and a pair of assists but was not particularly impressive on the field. He looked tentative and was clearly lacking the physical presence that Mikell had provided. Who knows what the Panthers are going to do this week. What we do know is that this situation is to be avoided until there is some sure resolution.
The Panthers have been juggling starters at corner opposite Captain Munnerlyn and rookie Melvin White got his shot in week eight. He held his own against the Buccaneers receivers, finishing the game with a solid 6 solo tackles. There is no way to be certain that White will get the call again in week nine but nothing in his play would suggest otherwise. The rookie corner rule is in play if he continues to start and White could be a particularly strong option during our playoffs when the Panthers face the Saints in weeks 14 and 16.
Lance Briggs seems to think he will be back from his shoulder injury ahead of the originally speculated six weeks. Meanwhile Mark Trestman has confirmed that rookie Khaseem Greene will get a shot to prove himself over the next few weeks. Greene's scouting report suggests that coverage is a strong point of his game so there is at least some chance he could have a three down role during that time. I still believe that Jon Bostic is the favorite for those duties. That said, if you have other options it might be a good idea to sit both guys this week until we can confirm who has the value.
Doplhin is on the menu for the Cincinnati pass rush this week. Miami has now allowed a league high 32 sacks in seven games so Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins are all guys that should be in our lineups this week. If you are looking for a sneaky sleeper play, watch the inactive list on Thursday. Wallace Gilberry is questionable with a groin so I would think twice about him even if he is active. If Gilberry is not active however, take a look at rookie Margus Hunt. The rookie is a raw talent with a ton of upside and will be the third man in the mix at end if Gilberry sits.
Injuries to Rey Maualuga and Michael Boley could put Vincent Rey in the middle linebacker role this week. Rey is a quality backup who normally works on the weak side and is solid in coverage. With six teams on bye and the linebacker ranks riddled with injuries, some owners deep leagues may be desperate for anyone who will get on the field. The Dolphins are an average at best matchup for linebackers so Rey is nothing to get excited about, but if you are among the desperate check the inactive list to see if Boley is going to play. If not it will be Rey.
The time may have finally come to give up hope for Bruce Carter. He played just 47 of 82 snaps in week eight and it has become apparent that Monte Kiffin has given up on him as a three down player. This would be much less surprising if the Cowboys actually had good players behind Carter. The fact that he is sharing time with the likes of Ernis Sims speaks volumes. If you are in a situation where you must play Carter this week, there is some hope. The Vikings have been an above average matchup for outside linebackers and their pedestrian passing game may dictate a lot of base defense for Dallas in this one.
Jeff Heath filled in admirably for J.J. Wilcox at free safety in week eight. Heath finished at a respectable 5-4 with a forced fumble. Minnesota has been a decent matchup for safeties as well. Wilcox is considered questionable as of Wednesday so keep an eye on the late week practice reports.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers defense was on the field for just 49 total snaps against Minnesota in week eight. That goes a long way toward explaining the team wide lack of IDP production. With Josh McCown under center the Bears may not be a much better opponent. In week seven the Washington defense was on the field for only 55 snaps. Perry Riley and London Fletcher combined to go 7-4 in that game.
On a brighter note; Jamari Lattimore has played well in place of Brad Jones. Word out of Packers camp is that he may have earned some playing time even when Jones returns. They have not yet shown any trust in Lattimore as part of the sub packages so I am not sure where that playing time would come from, but it is an interesting report in terms of dynasty consideration.
With Brian Cushing landing on IR after their week seven game, the Texans will turn to Darryl Sharpton as their three down inside linebacker. At least until he goes down. Sharpton has shown flashes of quality play on the field as well as useful box score numbers. What he has not shown is an ability to stay healthy. The fourth year player has missed 19 games in his three previous years and has not played in more than 9 games in a season since 2010. Upside makes Sharpton a quality roster addition and spot start but temper expectations this week. Early in the season a matchup with the Colts was gold, but over their last three games only one linebacker has put up more than 3 solo stops against Indianapolis and none have given us more than 5.
The other Texan that should be on our pickup list this week is D.J. Swearinger Sr. When Danieal Manning was lost for the season the team said he would be replaced by Shilo Keo. When it came time to play in week seven it was Swearinger at strong safety for 60 of 71 snaps and Ed Reed at free safety for 57 plays. With a solid 5 solo stops Swearinger may not have blown up the box scores against Kansas City, but he is a high upside guy who was drafted in the second round with the expectation that he would be the long term answer at the position. The situation in Houston is bleak on both sides of the ball which likely points to an exaggerated amount of opportunity for Swearinger. I am grabbing him everywhere I can get him this week.
The Colts linebacker position is yet another situation where a coaching staff just can not seem to make up their minds who to play. In recent weeks We have seen Pat Angerer in everything from a three down role to getting on the field for just a handful of plays in a game. For the record Angerer played 76 of 80 snaps against Denver in week seven and put up a season best 14 fantasy points. With a week off to rest, he should be as healthy as at any time this season. It stands to reason that he will be in a full time role this week. That would make him a quality start against a healthy full strength Houston squad, but the Texans are far from full strength. At this point it looks like they will be on their third quarterback with a #3 running back behind him. Without Arian Foster or Ben Tate in the game even Jerrell Freeman is a questionable start.
Kansas City Chiefs
I will keep this one short and sweet. Start Tamba Hali and/or Justin Houston this week against the Bills. Buffalo has been a strong matchup in terms of tackle opportunities and have allowed the fourth most sacks (28) in the league to date. Dontari Poe is a strong option as well.
Cameron Wake saw an increased workload in week eight but was not yet back in his full time role. That could come this week against Cincinnati but we should probably not risk starting him on Thursday. Wake has not yet shown the production to suggest he is close to healthy and the Bengals 16 sacks allowed rank them among the top ten when it comes to protecting their quarterback. On the other hand Cincinnati has been a strong matchup for linebackers so Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler should be productive for us.
Last week I talked up Jamarca Sanford who promptly went out and suffered a groin injury early in the game. Sanford may be active this week but is not expected to see much if any action. The injury is not considered serious so if you plucked him off the waiver wire last week as I did, it may be worthwhile to sit tight for a week or two.
New England Patriots
Over the past several years the Patriots have been the king of the curveball when it comes to predicting IDP production. Even with a bevy of injuries limiting their personnel options, New England continues to carry the torch. In week seven Donte Hightower worth the communications helmet and played every down with Brandon Spikes in a near every down role. Against Miami last week both linebackers were on the field for 62 of 80 snaps. Meanwhile it was Dane Fletcher at inside linebacker in a lot of passing situations. A matchup with the Steelers this week make both player hit or miss prospects.
Some Patriots that should be in our lineups this week are Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Chris Jones. The Steelers have struggled to protect Ben Roethlisberger for years and 2013 has been no different. Pittsburgh has allowed 27 sacks in seven games. The trade that brought nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to New England this week likely means that Joe Vellano will take a seat. Chris Jones has simply been far too productive to pull off the field.
The Patriots also added free agent Andre Carter this week. He was on the field for 20 snaps in week eight and barring injury, will remain a part time pass rusher.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints Wednesday practice report included a long list of players who did not participate. The most notable defensive scratch was Kenny Vaccaro who is undergoing concussion protocal this week. Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper joined Vaccaro on that list leaving the Saints with none of their top three safeties. The Jets have been a mediocre matchup for safeties in general but if you have been starting Vaccaro or are in need of a one week flier, keep an eye on the late week developments in New Orleans. Harper is all but certain to sit. If Vaccaro misses this week it will be Rafael Bush as the strong safety and the player to target for a spot start.
New York Jets
As anticipated Antonio Allen replaced Jaiquwan Jarrett as the Jets starting strong safety in week eight. Allen fell well short of his gaudy fantasy point total of the previous week but his tackle numbers of 5-3 were 1 assist short of an exact match. In week seven Allen was matched up with Rob Gronkowski so will be shadow Jimmy Graham this week? Regardless of how the Jets try to match up, New Orleans has been an excellent matchup for safeties. If you have Allen or can get him, he should be in our lineups this week.
Rookie Dee Milliner got the start against Cincinnati but was replaced by Darrin Walls early in the game. Both guys were beaten like a drum by the Bengals receivers and particularly Marvin Jones Jr. The expectation is that Walls will open as the starter against the Saints this week and it is a safe bet that Drew Brees will look to continue the beating. Walls should be a solid spot start for owners in corner required leagues.
Raiders interior linemen have a long history of quality box score production. Vance Walker is emerging as the guy to keep the tradition going. his three games as a starter have produced 12 solo tackles, a pair of sacks and consecutive double digit fantasy points. He looks like the real deal and should be on the pick up list for owners in tackle required leagues.
Miles Burris has been working his way back from a knee injury and is getting close to joining the frey. He may well be the Raiders most talented middle or weak side linebacker and could push for playing time in November. Kevin Burnett was relegated to a two down role in week seven (52 of 71 snaps) and could be the odd man out when Burris is ready. Those of you who need to get an early jump on the competition may want to consider adding Burris soon.
Ryan Clark has been a bit inconsistent this season but has put up 15+ fantasy points twice in the past three weeks and is coming off a season best 9 solo tackles against Oakland. Next up is the Patriots who have been an excellent matchup for safeties on most weeks. Chris Clemons 3-7, Antonio Allen 5-4 with a pick 6 and 3 passes defended, Rafael Bush 8-2, Malcolm Jenkins 3-5-1.5 have all come against New England in the past three weeks. Both Clark and Troy Polamalu deserve strong consideration this week.
If you are on the fence with Perry Riley and/or London Fletcher this week, consider that in their last four games the Chargers matchup has produced three linebackers with double digit tackles and a fourth with 9. On the season ten linebackers have totaled six or more. Riley and Fletcher are must starts this week.
That is going to do it for Week 9. Lets hope those defensive coaches throw us a fewer curveballs this week. Best of luck to everyone and as always Just Win Baby!